Blood Pressure and Cold Weather – Need to Know

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The American Heart Association and the American College of Cardiology recently updated their high blood pressure guidelines, resulting in 103 million adults falling into the category. This was an increase of over 30 million people from the old guidelines.

Since cold temperatures can cause blood pressure spikes, it’s important to know the dangers.

Why Blood Pressure Increases in the Cold

Blood pressure is the force at which blood is pushing against artery walls. It’s normal to rise and fall throughout the day, depending on many factors. However, if it remains elevated for long periods of time, it can cause heart damage, stroke or other health issues.

In the cold, blood vessels and arteries narrow to help conserve heat and maintain body temperature. But since there is less room for blood to move around, blood pressure increases to push the blood to where it needs to go.

The link between cold weather and higher blood pressure is not new science – it was discovered way back in 1961 by researcher Geoffrey Rose. Cardiologists have been well aware of the increased risk of heart attack and stroke in low temperature environments.

Factors that Matter

The amount of blood pressure increase depends on temperature, the wind chill and the length of time the person has been exposed, among other factors.

It doesn’t take arctic temperatures to create a health risk, however. The University of Florida found that being exposed to a temperature of 52 degrees for five minutes can cause a significant increase.

Age also matters. People aged 80 and older are particularly susceptible to health risks from cold weather exposure.

Prevention

If you have heart disease or are medicated to control blood pressure, then staying inside is your best option to avoid extreme cold. If you must go outside, then bundle up and stay warm. If you are shivering, then you are too cold.

The elderly and those who currently have hypertension should be closely monitored if the temperatures drop. This is why it is so important to check up on elderly neighbors and family members if they are in areas that experience extreme cold, like this past weekend.